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My question is about the word 'Hammer' in colloquial and idiomatic usage.

I have heard this word used in three ways in German:

  1. Das ist der Hammer (to indicate that something is cool or awesome)

  2. Das ist der Hammer (to indicate that something was poorly done or needs improvement, for example a professor saying this to a student about a test)

  3. Und jetzt kommt der Hammer... (Said by a professor when reading a text to indicate that the following word, clause, or sentence was important or perhaps interesting)

My question:

  1. Are these all valid idiomatic or colloquial uses of this word?

  2. Have I correctly interpreted and explained each situational meaning in my examples?

  3. Are there any other meanings of this word that I have not listed? This part of the question may be disregarded if this makes the scope to broad to answer.

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I don't know if that is a general trend but I increasingly use "hammer" in combination with adjectives in sense of "extremely"... hammerteuer, hammervoll, hammerlangweilig etc... just thought I'd mention it –  Emanuel May 8 at 12:03
    
You know what? This question is "der Hammer"(see 1) too ;) Very nicely written –  Vogel612 May 8 at 13:45

4 Answers 4

up vote 6 down vote accepted

"Das ist (ja) der Hammer" and "Und jetzt kommt der Hammer" are very common in colloquial. Your interpretations are correct. However, I guess you can summarize them all into one definition, which would read like:

A "Hammer" is something which is very unusual, exceptional, surprising or even unbelievable.

Context will clarify if it's good or bad.

So, imho the meanings are not too different. I see only two differences (in your examples):

  • Good versus bad
  • The degree of abnormality

Note, a translation will be very different depending on context. I doubt there's a similar expression in English.

On Redensarten-Index you find more information, also on etymology:

umgangssprachlich; Redensart, die kontextabhängig sowohl für angenehme als auch für unangenehme Ereignisse gebraucht wird. Der Hammer war in germanischer Zeit eine Waffe und das Symbol des Gewittergottes Donar. Vielleicht hat sich aus dieser Zeit der Gebrauch dieser Wendung erhalten, die dann im Sinne eines Schicksalsschlags zu deuten wäre (Schicksalshammer, Hammer des Gesetzes). Auch die geballte und zuschlagende Faust wird als Hammer bezeichnet

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This was very informative. The etymology is especially helpful. Thank you. –  Patrick Sebastien May 9 at 11:18

All of your examples are perfectly idiomatic. Das ist (ja) der Hammer can be used to express surprise or satisfaction. In English you'd probably say it takes the cake or something along these lines, or (in slang) refer to something as "da bomb". Really not all that different :)

Und jetzt kommt der Hammer...

Used to highlight an important, perhaps unsuspected part or fact. (And now for the kicker.)

There are a few other fixed expressions:

Jemandem zeigen wo der Hammer hängt. (Show somebody who's boss.)

Etwas kommt unter den Hammer (is sold at auction).

Den Hammer fallen lassen (stopping to work, rather abruptly, e.g. at the end of the day).

Hammer is also sometimes used in boxing (think "Mörderhammer") and can also have sexual connotations, much like the more general "tool" in English.

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Very informative. Thank you for the additional usages. I am curious what the connotation of "Etwas kommt unter den Hammer" is? I know that at a formal auction a hammer (or gavel) is used to finalize the sale. However does this phrase carry any negative connotations or is it just neutral? An hypothetical negative connotation, of which I am thinking: "Ich konnte nicht mehr für mein Haus bezahlen und so jetzt nimmt die Bank ihn. Er kommt morgen unter den Hammer." I could imagine your example to signify the entire meaning of that sentence (in context, of course). Could you clarify? Thanks. –  Patrick Sebastien May 9 at 11:25
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@PatrickSebastien Yes, the connotation of "unter den Hammer kommen" is not the best. It is thought that auctioning off items or entire houses this way is caused by plight and that it is likely that you will get a price below the fair value (whatever that is). –  Ingo May 9 at 12:28
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I'm not sure I agree completely. Sure, in the case describe above your may be correct, but it will always depend on circumstances. Just imagine a newspaper article claiming that "bei Sothebys kommen nächste Woche Kunstwerke aus dem zaristischen Russland (or whatever) unter den Hammer". Nothing wrong with that, is there? –  Ingmar May 9 at 13:18
    
@Ingo thank you both. I discern that it could be negative or positive depending on the circumstances but is inherently neither of these. I appreciate the answers. –  Patrick Sebastien May 12 at 10:10
    
@Ingmar you are right: with items that are always or predominantly auctioned off the negative connotations of "unter den Hammer kommen" seem to weaken. However, even in this case, to me "werden bei Sothebys versteigert" would sound more neutral. If I heard you say your example, I couldn't resist thinking that you might have prejudices against "Kunstwerke aus dem zaristischen Rußland" asking yourself who on earth would buy such junk. –  Ingo May 12 at 10:41

There are more: "Der hat ja einen Hammer" meaning that someone is regarded as intellectually limited or even mentally handicapped. The sexual connotation is actually quite common, usually referring to a (supposedly) big or powerful penis as in "Hammer in der Hose"

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Like others are saying Hammer as a slang/colloquial word has many different acceptable uses, but generally refers to or describes something that is abnormally good, bad, or unexpected. In my experience, it can be used as both a noun Das ist der Hammer! and an adjective Das war total hammer!.

It's also worth mentioning the song Du bist Hamma by Culcha Candela: Here

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When talking about songs... Absolute Beginner - Hammerhart –  Em1 May 8 at 20:46

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